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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Kerry Sims

Free States of Jones (2016)

Turns out, most racists don’t enjoy being on the end-side of a gun.

In 1863, Mississippi farmer Newt Knight (Matthew McConaughey) served as a medic for the Confederate Army, where he treated and helped all sorts of soldiers who were either severely injured, slowly dying, or dead on arrival. Either way, it was terrible for Newt to be around and it made him see some unimaginable things that no man should ever have to see. And once his nephew dies in battle, Newt decides that he’s had it with the war and returns home to Jones County, his hometown. There, he safeguards his family, but therefore, is branded a deserter and chased by all army officials who are either looking to steal citizens goods and crops, or just looking to capture Newt and whoever else may be ducking the war. So now Newt has to run for the swamps and in there, he finds a fellow band of slaves, also trying to hide out and be free from the slavers, leading both Newt, as well as the slaves to create a union where they’ll fight-off the evil and corrupt army with all that they’ve got. It’s dangerous, but it leads to one of the biggest uprisings in U.S. history.

Always follow Matthew McConaughey, kid. Always.

Always follow Matthew McConaughey, kid. Always.

Director Gary Ross clearly has good intentions with Free State of Jones; in fact, so much so that it actually comes close to ruining the movie. There’s a lot that Ross has to cover and talk about here, and because of that, the movie runs in at nearly two-hours-and-19-minutes. For some, this may not be much of an issue, because there’s plenty to watch and learn about, but for mostly everyone else, it will just be a long, boring slog that never seems to end, never knows where it wants to go, nor ever seems any interest in actually exploring anything deeper than its message, which is, essentially, slavery was bad.

That’s it.

Free State of Jones, for its whole run-time, narrative choices, tricks, trades, and detours, eventually ends on a typical note that racism was bad, hating people for their skin-color is bad, and yeah, you should just be nicer to people. While this is definitely a fine statement to have in everyday life, this doesn’t really seem to break any new ground, nor open people’s minds up, especially when the movie is as long as this one is. And while I’m sure that this makes it appear that I didn’t like this flick, I’ll have you know, it’s quite the opposite. Sure, it’s messy, odd, confusing at points, and flawed, but there were bits and pieces of it that worked and interested me, long after having seen it.

Ross definitely has a lot he wants to talk about here and because of that, the movie can sometimes feel like a jumble; it’s also made even worse by the fact that his narrative-structure isn’t always the smartest to use. For example, he uses a lot of typeface that tells us what historical moments/occurrences are happening between scenes, as well as using a bunch of old-timey photos of certain characters and settings. And heck, if that wasn’t bad enough, he also frames it all with a story taking place in 1949, where a descendant of Newt Knight is trying to argue his race and family’s history.

They’re all interesting ideas to bring to a movie that covers as much ground as this one does, but are they the right ones?

Well, that’s kind of the issue with Free State of Jones – it takes a lot of risky steps, but doesn’t find a lot of them paying-off in the end. If anything, they seem to take away from the strength and the power of the actual, true story itself, in which a lot of bad things happen to good people and for all idiotic, except that, once again, this is all from history. Ross has an agenda and has something that he wants to say about the South, America’s history, and racism as a whole, and they’re all noble, but at the same time, it also keeps Free State of Jones from being a better movie. Sometimes, it’s just a little too messy and disjointed to really keep moving at a certain pace.

But for me, the pace actually worked for me. Ross isn’t trying to cram everything down our throats and at our eye-sockets all at one time – he takes his time, allowing for certain details about the story and these characters to come out, slowly, but surely. It’s very rare to get a big-budget, summer flick that doesn’t feel the need to go all crazy with explosions, guns, violence and a big, screeching score right off the bat; sometimes, all a movie needs to do is settle itself down to keep us on-track with everything that’s going on. Does it always work? Not really, but the times that it does, it helps make Free State of Jones a more interesting piece of history that, quite frankly, Hollywood seems to get wrong, or steer away from.

Even while holding that gun, Matty knows he's the man.

Even while holding that gun, Matty knows he’s the man.

And this is all to say that yes, Free State of Jones is violent, bloody, gruesome, and ugly, but in all the right ways. The movie is depicting a time in U.S. history that we all don’t like to look back on with smiles, so therefore, Free State of Jones gets as graphic as it humanly can about all of the mean and nasty injustices and deaths that occurred during this time. After awhile, it all gets to be a bit jarring, but that’s sort of the point; war, or even for that matter, violence, isn’t pretty, so why should a movie depicting it so much be?

Well, to answer that question: It shouldn’t.

And yes, the cast is quite good, even if it does sometimes feel as if they don’t always have a whole lot to do. Matthew McConaughey is as charming and likable as he can possibly be as Newt Knight, and it works in the character’s favor. You want to love his winning and charismatic smile, but you also want to believe that he is absolutely willing to sink to the lowest depths of humanity to protect himself, as well as those that he loves so much. Mahershala Ali plays Moses, a former slave who has some of the more emotional moments of the movie and quite frankly, they’re definitely needed. As for the women, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Keri Russell, play two interesting characters in Newt Knight’s life that, honestly, I would have liked to see their own movie about.

Maybe in another flick, perhaps?

Or then again, maybe not.

Consensus: Disjointed, uneven and a bit nonsensical, Free States of Jones doesn’t always make the smartest decisions, narratively speaking, but still offers up plenty of interesting truths about America’s bloody, brutal, and sometimes upsetting history.

6 / 10

"To freedom! I think!"

“To freedom! I think!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Midnight Special (2016)

Somebody’s been watching a bit too much Spielberg.

Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), a young boy who possess special powers and has lightning beams shoot out of his eyes whenever he takes off his goggles, is on the run from the law, as well as some cult who needs him for something. Taking him away from these cruel and mean baddies is his father (Michael Shannon), his daddy’s friend (Joel Edgerton), and his mother (Kirsten Dunst). All of them want to get Alton away to safety, not just because he’s their his actual kid, but because he has the one and only way to some sort of promised land that they’re promised. Call it religion, call it what you will, but they believe Alton can do something for the greater good of their society. However, hot on their heels is the FBI, but most importantly, a new agent by the name of Paul (Adam Driver) who, surprisingly, finds himself more drawn to what’s actually going on, rather than anything illegal in nature. He, like basically everyone else, wants to figure out just what key Alton holds and whether or not he can live up to the odd promise that it seems like everyone around him is making.

You know he's about ready to freak the 'eff out any second now.

You know he’s about ready to freak the ‘eff out any second now.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols has been making some great films for quite some time and, in my mind at least, he’s probably four-for-four. Not all of his movies have been masterpieces, but, for the most part, they’ve all been good and have at least done something better than most movies out there. Also, they seem to exist in the real dark, gritty and Southern-fried world that we currently live in, where all men have daddy issues, don’t know how to relate to one another, and experience death, in at least one way or another. They’re smart, somewhat relatable stories about humans who you can’t help but be interested by.

That’s why, Midnight Special, while not a slam-dunk like his other movies, still works well because it features a lot of what Nichols does best: Human-drama.

But what’s probably the most interesting aspect about Midnight Special is that there’s more than just humans and drama here – there’s an air of mystery surrounding just who this Alton kid is, what he’s able to do, and whether or not he really can live up to some promise of possessing the keys to the kingdom, or something. The movie never makes much sense of what it is that Alton can do, but for awhile, it doesn’t really seem like that’s going to be the key, main focus; instead, it felt like it was just going to be about how these people relate to one another, in a situation that’s pretty tense and dire. Sure, we may not have a clue as to why people are chasing after these characters, with shotguns and whatnot, but still, we know that it’s not a good situation, and because we get some time to spend and share with these main characters, it’s worth getting involved with them and seeing where their adventure takes them.

And that’s why, when the focus is placed solely on these characters and not much else, Midnight Special works great. It helps that Nichols himself is able to, once again, gather up a solid cast to make his material even better, but still, there’s certain details to each and everyone of them that make them worth being compelled by. Mostly though, it is, once again, Michael Shannon who delivers the best performance as Alton’s daddy, who may or may not have sinister intentions. It’s probably no surprise to anyone to see that Shannon’s the best, because yes, he is the one who constantly appears in Nichols’ work, but still, there’s something to be said for an actor who is and a performance that is constantly making us wonder just what this person is going to do next.

We know he’s a good guy, but what is he using this Alton kid for?

To destroy the world, slowly but surely?

Or, does he just want his son to be happy and feel free in a world that accepts him and isn’t trying to hunt him down for one reason or another?

Cheer up, Joel. If you don't like your time spent here, there's always another movie like the Gift, you sick and twisted f**k.

Cheer up, Joel. If you don’t like your time spent here, there’s always another movie like the Gift, you sick and twisted f**k.

Yeah, take those questions as you will and make up your own answers, because honestly, Nichols doesn’t seem all that interested in answering them. And that is totally fine. Nichols has enough strong material going on here that it all mostly works, even when it seems like he’s just jerking us around, giving us constant red herrings to shake our heads at, but still remember when the time comes for the ending.

And speaking of that ending, well, it’s pretty crummy. Maybe, yeah, I shouldn’t say “the ending”, because it’s more or less the big “reveal” of what kind of powers Alton possess and what everybody’s been waiting around and searching for, for the past two hours. It comes as a big surprise, really, but not a good one; it almost seems as if Nichols knew that he was thrown into a corner and had to deliver on some sort of twist that allowed for everything to make some sort of sense, and rather than just leaving it up in the air and pissing people off, he decided to give a reveal, but not actually work at making it understandable.

Of course, this is all spoiler-y material which I won’t dive into here, however, I will say that it disappointed me with whatever happened. For awhile, it seemed like Midnight Special was going to be a smarter, but more thrilling adventure into the Southern farmlands that we usually get from Nichols, but for some reason, the mystery starts to take over and become more of a central focus than any of the characters. It’s fine at first, until you realize that the end-game doesn’t quite work, or make that much sense.

But hey, at least getting there is good enough.

Consensus: A solid cast, a smart, tender direction from Nichols, and an aura of odd mystery, allows for Midnight Special to work, all up until the final few minutes, where it doesn’t make much sense and just seems like it was forced to make something up, unfortunately.

6.5 / 10

Kids. What the hell are they even looking at half the time?

Children. What the hell are they even looking at half the time?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

99 Homes (2015)

Don’t ever trust a landlord.

As soon as the crash of 2008 occurred, everyone in the United States was left without a paddle. One such person was Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a single father who, after much fighting and arguing with the court, gets evicted from his Orlando home. Seeing that he has lost his family-home, Nash sets out to do whatever he can to get it back – even if that means having to join up and work for the same man who kicked him out of his house to begin with: real estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Carver has certain practices that aren’t what some would call “ethical”, or better yet, “legal”, but the money’s so good that Nash doesn’t care. Eventually though, Nash begins to move up the ladder, which takes him away from working on the homes, and brings him now to actually having to interact with the tenants who are in the actual homes. This mostly involves Nash posting notices on doors, warning tenants of being vacated, and, as time rolls on, even having to kick some tenants on his own. Clearly this is something that Nash doesn’t feel comfortable with, but once again, it’s all about the money and the prospect of getting his family back in order to the way they once were.

Message!

So message-y!

Have you ever been stuck in a lecture at all in your life, whether it be with your parents, a teacher, or one of those Jesus-nuts from off the street, and not want to leave? Instead, you hold on to every single word that they say, even though you know the end-point? You know that they’re not going to start off by stating something like, “Gay marriage is bad”, and then end with, “Well, you know, you can do what you want.” The lecture is, most definitely, going to start with an agenda, continue on with that agenda, and, you guessed it, end with that same agenda. And yet, something about the lecture is just keeping you on your toes and surprisingly interested.

That’s how I felt with 99 Homes – a long lecture about the housing crisis and all the evil-doers behind it, yet, I never wanted to turn away or leave.

Eventually, that time did come around, but that’s not till later, so just wait dammit! Listen to me lecture about stuff now!

For one, Ramin Bahrani seems to know what he’s talking about here. Clearly, he’s put his heart and soul into material that, for a good majority of people out there, will not find an easy way to handle. It will, most likely, hit too close to home, hard, and re-open old wounds that were probably still healing. However, Bahrani seems to be interested in what these wounds still hold. Are they sadness? Are they grief? Or, are they wishes that something better occurred?

Well, 99 Homes is, in a way, that fantasy being played-out. One thing is certain about the movie, and that’s that it’s not totally a drama. I mean, yes, it’s most definitely a drama that’s emotional, sad, and for a good portion, filled with lots of interesting talking-points, but in all honesty, is really a thriller. Once we see Garfield’s Dennis Nash start picking up work as one of Shannon’s Rick Carver’s lackeys, then it’s balls to the walls from there. This Nash fella is taking away pools, air-conditioners and handing out eviction notices to people who have no clue just what the hell kind of storm has hit them dead-on in the face. While, at the same time, he’s making all of this money and seeming to be loving it.

Sure, he’s morally-conflicted by the fact that the person he’s getting rich off of, is the very same person who got him kicked out of his house, but because the money’s continuing to come in and the dreams seem promising, he lets it all slide by. And you know what? It’s hard to watch this and not want him to, either. Dennis Nash, as he’s presented to us, is nothing more than just your average, blue-collar dude who, like many others just like him, was short-shifted when the crash of 2008 came around and had no idea of what to do next with his life, his family, or his career. All he knew was what he was good at and tried to go where the money went.

That’s why, when we see Nash get thrown out of his house, it’s disturbing and visceral. Many people had to go through the same ordeal he’s going through and it was most definitely 100% more tragic to them. And that’s why, when we see that Nash is clearly pleased with himself making all of this cash money, it’s great to see him happy and enjoying himself. After all, he’s just a normal dude who isn’t under normal circumstances, so why continue to act normal? Why not try something new and go with that from there?

"When you said, 'movie with Spider-Man,' I thought you meant Tobey Maguire! Who's this damn kid!"

“When you said, ‘movie with Spider-Man,’ I thought you meant Tobey Maguire! Who’s this damn kid!”

Clearly, Rahmin Bahrani thinks this is a bad idea. However, his movie proves otherwise.

Bahrani has crafted a nice little thriller that takes you through everything one may need to know about the housing-crash, how it was operated, who was responsible, and those who were affected the most. But at the center of it all, is probably the most realistic character of the bunch, who also seems to be the most sinister: Michael Shannon’s Rick Carver. There’s no denying the fact that Michael Shannon’s a good actor, but here, as Rick Carver, he gets to stretch his wings a whole lot more and show, that even despite his character being a pretty despicable human specimen, there’s still something we want to watch and see more of him.

We know that he’s a baddie, but we also know that he, like many others, are just trying to get by with what he knows and what he’s best at. But what’s best about Carver is that he doesn’t try to make any excuses or apologies for the way he is – he just is. For instance, there’s a scene in the middle of the film where Carver laces into this tirade about how, “America was built on winners. Not losers.” It’s not just hard to take your eyes off of him because it’s literally just a single-shot, zooming in on his face, but also, because some of what Shannon is spouting on about is true. You may not want to believe it as being such, but it is and it makes this movie feel like a smart bit of preaching, rather than just preaching for the sake of it.

And don’t let me forget Andrew Garfield, because the man is great here! What with him being forced to play Peter Parker, it’s hard to remember that, at one time, Garfield was a very promising, young, and talented actor that seemed primed and ready for some very interesting material to come his way. Now with Spidey out of his way, Garfield seems like he’s enjoying some time being able to dig deep into characters that aren’t the kind you’d expect someone of his good-looks to play; you know, such as a middle-aged, middle-class single-father.

However, as good as Garfield may be, his character sadly falls prey to an ending that, honestly, came close to ruining the movie for me.

I won’t spoil much, other than to say that it felt like Bahrani, throughout a good majority of 99 Homes, was making a movie that wasn’t going to play it nice, sweet and kind, and instead, go for the gritty-realism that’s expected of source material such as this. However, he does the bait-and-switch and decides that maybe he wants some melodrama, messages, and red herrings thrown into the mix. I’ve already said too much, but just know, when the ending comes around, it may disappoint you more than please.

That may just be me, though.

Consensus: 99 Homes is a timely-thriller that gets by on the excellent performances, however, is a bit short-shifted by a weak ending that keeps it away from being a whole lot better.

8 / 10

Big houses. Big cars. Big women. The life of a real estate agent, yo.

Big houses. Big cars. Big women. The life of a real estate agent, yo.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Fantastic Four (2015)

Any person looking to direct movies one day, stay away from Marvel.

Ever since he was a young kid, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has always wanted to use science for the greater-good of the world and one day, during his high school’s science fair, he finally gets the chance to do so. When Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) walks up to Reed and propositions him with the idea of working for him, in his laboratory, on a full-time scholarship, Reed has no chance but to accept the offer. Reed soon joins in with the likes of Storm’s two children, Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and the adopted Sue (Kate Mara), and an intelligent recluse by the name of Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell). All of these intelligent brains combined, work on a teleportation device that takes them to a dark and scary world full of clouds, rocks, and lava. Eventually, their project works, but one day, when they decide to travel out into the world on their own, things go awry with everyone involved. Reed becomes a floppy man that can stretch any part of his body, Sue can become invisible and create force-fields, Johnny can fly and light himself on fire, Reed’s childhood buddy, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), becomes a huge, rock thingy, and von Doom, who sadly gets left behind, is able to control things using his mind and power. After this incident, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Why we're people pissed-off at this casting-choice.....

Why we’re people pissed-off at this casting-choice….

So yeah, there’s already been lots and lots of problems surrounding Fantastic Four and mostly all of it can be chalked up to the fact that, once again, Marvel and a director of their choosing, don’t seem to get along. In this case, it’s Josh Trank who had to suffer from all of the chipping, chopping and rules of Marvel. Which is a total shame because Trank’s first flick, Chronicle, was a fun, entertaining, and surprisingly smart superhero movie that fell back on its genius ways of telling a story, rather than relying on a big brand-name that people can spot on any billboard from a mile away. And while it would make sense that Trank getting a chance to make another movie about young people becoming superheros would be another home-run, sadly, that doesn’t happen.

Except it’s not always as bad as it may have been said to be.

For at least the first hour or so, Fantastic Four seems like Trank’s movie full and through. It takes its time building characters, showing their relationships with one another, and giving us a certain amount of time to get used to them, the story they’re involved with, and get a chance to see just what may occur once everything goes South (as we know these movies tend to do). This earlier-portion of the movie is where Trank’s, Simon Kinberg’s, and Jeremy Slater’s writing seems to be at their best; not only does it seem like we’re going somewhere with this story, but we’re getting a chance to get a feel for these characters so that it’s easier for us to connect with them and relate. It may take awhile to get where it needs to get, but it’s funny, entertaining and, at the very least, interesting.

Then, things go awry.

After the gang goes to this parallel universe lazily titled “Planet Zero” and everybody’s got their own, respective super powers, then something strange happens to the movie. For some reason that I can’t explain other than the mandatory re-shoots that were needed for this project, the government somehow gets involved, Reed Richards runs away, and out of nowhere, Doom finally comes into play and starts blowing up each and every person’s heads. Why that is, we never get a chance to know, but when we see Doom get put back into the story after being away from him for about a half-hour, it’s as sinister and as scary as scenes with Dr. Doom should be.

..when they should have been pissed-off at this one?

..when they should have been pissed-off at this one?

But then, all of that seems to go down the drain once we get an eventual battle with Doom and the Four, and eventually, it becomes as clear as day that he’s so easily beatable. Rather than feeling like a film where an opponent seems to get the better of his rival(s), whoever edited the final-half of this movie make it seem like a boss fight in a video-game. Before defeating the bad guy and beating the game, you may have to go back and restart the level a few times, trying different combos and buttons out, all before you do get the chance to beat him and moving on with your day as if you have truly accomplished something revolutionary.

I’d expect that with a battle between Mario and Bowser, but not Dr. Doom and the Fantastic Four.

And it’s a shame too, because with the ensemble that Trank was able to get together for this, it seems like a missed-opportunity that he wasn’t able to get more out of each and everyone of them. Don’t get me wrong, everybody here is fine and seem like they’re on the same page when it comes to reading the script and performing it, but each and everyone of their own talents get lost in a mess of a final-act that doesn’t know how to wrap itself up. In the end, everything that happened before makes it feel like it was all just a lead-up to next week’s episode, where the Fantastic Four will, once again, battle against a certain evil, have problems along the way, break-off, get back together, and once and for all, beat the super, duper villain.

And even though there’s already a sequel planned for this, something tells me plans may get scrapped. Which, to be honest, isn’t something I want. To me, deep down inside, there seems to be a good, entertaining, and relatively smart Fantastic Four movie just lurking around somewhere in the darkness. But because the powers that B from Marvel got involved, everything went to shit and we’re instead left with an incredibly mediocre superhero movie that serves more as a cautionary tale, rather than a celebration for the fans of these comic book characters getting to see them on the screen once again.

Only time will tell though.

Consensus: After about the first hour or so, Fantastic Four becomes the trainwreck you’d expect it to be, but for a good while, it’s entertaining and compelling, until all of the fun times go away and we’re left with plenty to be desired.

5 / 10

So, what else can he stretch?

So, what else can he stretch?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Jurassic World (2015)

Next summer, just go to Six Flags.

A little over 20 years since the disastrous incident that occurred at Jurassic Park, Jurassic World is now up, running and pretty damn successful. It’s considered one of the more popular theme parks on the planet, where it features all sorts of dinosaurs, games, rides, and scientists working on genetically-modified dinosaurs. Wait, what? Yep, just like they were doing those many years ago, scientists at Jurassic World are now trying to figure out how they can make bigger, better and more efficient dinosaurs so that they can keep attendance booming over a large period of time. While the operation’s manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), sees no problem in this, one of the Velociraptor’s trainers, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), does and sees that it’s only a matter of time until the dinosaurs decide to bite back. Eventually, on one fateful day when two brothers (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) are visiting the park, the T-Rex that they have hidden away at the park gets loose and decides to run all sorts of havoc around the park. Now, it’s only a matter of time until too much damage is done and nobody can stop it; something that Grady, as well as some shady businessmen, want to make happen.

Let’s get one thing clear: Jurassic World is definitely the better of the Jurassic Park sequels. Sure, that may not be saying much, but considering that so many sequels/reboots/remakes/cash-ins seem to pop by every other week or so, without seeming like any life was put into them at all, it’s saying a whole lot. It’s saying that Steven Spielberg made a smart decision on taking a back-seat to his prized possession and allow young up-and-comer Colin Trevorrow take over the reigns; a job he does fine enough with to where there’s some brief instances of a sense of fun and wonder in the tips of his hands.

Okay, Chris, we get it! You really want to be Indiana Jones!!

Okay, Chris, we get it! You really want to be Indiana Jones!!

So yeah, it’s a good movie. Is it great? Nope, but sometimes, that doesn’t always matter.

Where Trevorrow seems to drop the ball a bit is in making sense of this story to its fullest extent. For one, it’s interesting that even though there’s so much talk about the theme park of Jurassic World itself, and in how it’s trying to be the biggest, best, and greatest thing to ever hit the Earth, makes me wonder what the message was trying to be conveyed here. In a day and age we live in where SeaWorld seems to constantly be getting hit with controversy after controversy, it’s almost idiotic to avoid discussing this in any way, especially when your own movie seems to be dealing with the same problems, in a theme park where animals are held, no less.

But what’s odd is that the movie doesn’t ever seem to know what sort of stance it wants to take. We don’t know if we’re supposed to feel pity for the genetically-modified dinosaurs and how they’re just acting out the way they would be, had they not been so held in captivity for so long, or if we’re supposed to feel bad for the human beings who are just trying to run away and save their own lives. In the original film, it was clear that we’re supposed to care for the humans, but also realize that the dinosaurs were acting out in menacing ways that made them deserve to be put down. Trevorrow and company, for some odd reason, constantly juggle between the two and it creates a weird jumble that never seems to be fully pinned-down.

And then, of course, there’s the issue of how the characters, despite the lovely cast playing them, are a bit on the bland side. One of the hottest, brightest, talented and most charming stars we have working in movies today, Chris Pratt, is given the hero role as Owen Grady and it doesn’t seem like it fully goes as deep as it should have. Sure, Pratt gets a chance to use some lines, look tough and constantly seem like he’s always in control, but he plays it in such a way that’s almost too straight; as if he was just playing Burt Macklin, through and through, and forgetting to drop out of character. Of course, this may have more to do with the writing that was made for him, which is a shame, but it puts into question as to why the writers didn’t decide to give Pratt, one of the funnier men in movies today, at least a joke or two to work with?

Just seems weird, is all.

Who is it that's supposed to be afraid by Richie Cunningham's daughter?

Who is it that’s supposed to be afraid by Richie Cunningham’s daughter?

Bryce Dallas Howard is sort of in the same boat as Pratt, where her character seems like she’s just window-dressing to a lot of action and a random romantic subplot that seems to come a tad bit out of nowhere. Then, Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson play her nephews who seem to be there to yell, run and scream a whole lot; Vincent D’Onofrio plays the villain, who will occasionally sound like he has a Southern accent, and then, suddenly, drop out of it; and well, there’s plenty more along the likes of Omar Sy, Judy Greer, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus, Irrfan Khan, and B.D. Wong, all of whom do what they can, but aren’t always given much to work with because of the visual-display on hand.

With that said, too, the movie itself is actually all fine. There’s just been so many complaints about the characters that it felt like it needed to be addressed, because while they’re definitely lame, they don’t destroy the movie. It’s still a fun time, which seems to be because Trevorrow still knows what it’s like to watch a movie as a kid – just as Spielberg seems to have always intended with his movies.

Though some moan and complain about the fact that the movie takes about an hour to get to any sort of dinosaur action, or any action of any sort, for that matter, it still seemed to work for me, the same way it did for me in Godzilla. Whereas that movie kept us in the dark about what it prized-attraction looked like and was capable of doing, Jurassic World seems to understand that we know what its star looks like and can do, however, when it’ll come into play is what really makes the anticipation all the more worth it. Once the T-Rex is unleashed and all hell breaks loose, the movie still keeps its fun tone alive and well, but at the same time, still terrifying to where it doesn’t seem watered-down like most PG-13 movies can be, especially when they’re made for a larger audience.

So basically, come to this one for all of the action and fun, don’t bother even taking a glance at the characters; you’ll only leave pissed-off.

Consensus: Though definitely lacking in the story and character department, Jurassic World benefits from a fun and exciting feel that makes it a summer blockbuster worth checking out, even if the “other” sequels still leave rancid tastes in your mouth.

7 / 10

Meh. Whatever.

Meh. Whatever.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Hot Pursuit (2015)

Thelma and Louise definitely had more fun. And they *SPOILER ALERT* died!

Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) has been a by-the-books police officer for as long as she can remember. However, after a infamous mishap, she’s found herself away from field duty and put behind the desk where, hopefully, she won’t hurt anybody or screw things up. Cooper isn’t about this, but it’s all that she’s got to work with now. That’s why, when she’s given the duty to transport the wife of a drug cartel leader, Daniella (Sofia Vergara), to witness protection in Dallas, she is more than willing to oblige. But on the way over, things get a bit iffy, where fellow officers are killed and sooner than later, Cooper realizes that she’s being made out to be the baddie. This is when she decides to take Daniella to witness protection on hero own, in hopes that not only does Daniella get to where she needs to be, but her name gets cleared and all. However, during their little road trip, as expected, wacky hijinx and heartfelt conversations about life, love and unity ensue.

There’s a part of me that appreciates what Hot Pursuit is doing, but at the same time, also despises it. See, Hot Pursuit can list itself among the very small subcategory of road-trip movies that feature not one, but two female leads; the Heat may be apart of that group as well, but that was nearly two years ago. Movies like this where we are treated to two female leads doing and acting in roles that could have easily been filled-out by their male counterparts, hardly ever see the light of day and that’s why Hot Pursuit can be appreciated.

Boobs, get it?

Boobs, get it?

However, by the same token, it’s also a pretty terrible movie that shouldn’t be seen no matter what it represents.

Basically, this movie is not funny. While that’s as simple and as short as I can possibly be, it’s the absolute truth. As with most comedies, there’s maybe one or two times that I myself chuckle and while there is definitely two or maybe even three instances of that here, I can’t remember where they came from, what was funny about them, or even when they happened during the duration of this hour-and-a-half film.

But the long answer is that Hot Pursuit is, ultimately, a very sexist, unfunny comedy that seems to appreciate the fact that it’s about two female characters, but also gratifies them to make jokes about their bodies, their sexual activities (or in some cases, lack thereof), their age, and, how could I forget, their menstrual cycles. Yes, every joke ever made about a member of the female gender is touched upon here as if it were a Three Stooges short from the 20’s, but whereas those are actually funny in their offensive, slightly inappropriate sign-of-the-times ways, Hot Pursuit is just using them all for cheap, dirty laughs.

Which wouldn’t have been such a problem, had the jokes actually delivered, but they hardly ever do. They don’t land and more often than not, just continue on a very mean-streak this movie seems to lead early on and hardly ever stray away from.

And most of this comes from the fact that these characters are so thinly-written, that they almost become caricatures. Cooper is small and very strict about her day-to-day life, so most of the jokes surrounding her are about her height, her non-existent sex life, and the fact that she talks so professionally and nerd-like. With Daniella, because she has a lovely body and is Colombian, many jokes are made about her breasts, her accent, and oh, I almost forgot, her age. In fact, there’s maybe two or three jokes that are about Daniella’s age that don’t make any sense; not just because the character’s age has never been discussed before, but because Sofia Vergara is way too good-looking to be mistaken for a 50-year-old, even though she is slowly approaching that age.

But honestly, I can’t hold much of this movie’s problems against Vergara, Witherspoon, or the rest of the ensemble. Everyone here seems to be trying, it’s just that they’re saddled with material that would be better suited for a low-rent sitcom that would maybe last a week or two, until the network eventually realized that it’s offending way too many people and is already suffering from low ratings. Except that with Hot Pursuit, it’s a movie that people will pay to go and see, so even though I hope people want to see it for the fact that it’s a marketable movie featuring two female leads, I hope that it doesn’t lead to there being anything of a sequel.

Physical comedy, get it?

Physical comedy, get it?

Like, seriously, that would be terrible.

However, if there is someone to be partially blamed here, it’s Witherspoon herself. See, even after her infamous 2013 arrest, or, better yet, even the numerous pieces of trash she’s starred-in over the years, Witherspoon is still an incredibly talented actress who, even nearing 40, seems like she’s got plenty left in her system to go for another 20 years or so. Heck, she even just got nominated for an Oscar not more than three months ago! So what the heck gives?

Well, that’s because Witherspoon, in what seems like a very smart move on her part, produces a lot of what she stars in. Granted, she produced Gone Girl and didn’t star in that, but she produced Wild, which was a critical, as well as a financial success, but then again, she’s doing the same here for Hot Pursuit. Whether it was a move to ensure that the role she plays would stay straight for a woman, or if it was just money getting in the way of things, is totally unknown. However, if there is one thing that I do know, is that Witherspoon needs to steer clear of what sort of movies she backs up, let alone, star in. Because while Hot Pursuit may be a movie starring women, made for a general, wide audience, it still feels like the kind of flick that everybody will love it, except for women and that’s a huge problem.

So, please Reese, be careful.

Consensus: Though Witherspoon, Vergara, and everyone else in Hot Pursuit seem to be trying, there’s just no helping the fact that it’s jokes are lazy and sometimes insulting, leading to an overall, very unfunny comedy.

2 / 10

Yelling, get it?

Yelling, get it?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Focus (2015)

All it takes is a few really good-looking people to make you forget about your Rolex.

Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) is a seasoned vet at the art of conning people. He’s been in it for so long, however, that he feels like maybe it’s about time that he starts to settle down and focus on the bigger picture: Actual life. But such is the problem with the life of a con man – you can’t be trusted, which, as a result, means you can’t trust anyone else. It’s pretty sad, but at least you have a lot of money. This all begins to change for Nicky when he meets young, bright, bubbly and downright beautiful grifter, Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie), who wants Nicky to teach her the tricks and the trade of pulling off the perfect con. Nicky has no problem with this, because he believes Jess is smart enough and more than capable, but has one major problem: He may be in love with her. Which isn’t just bad for business, but bad for him, as a person. And Jess may feel the same way, but the two never fully know until it’s all too late.

Movies about con men, women, people, etc., all suffer the same problems: They’re fun, flashy and twisty, but sometimes, they get a bit too over-the-heads and can end up becoming a convoluted mess that doesn’t fully add up. One of the rare exceptions to this rule is the classic-caper, the Sting, which definitely helped get through some of its slower-patches with its attention to detail and character, but still had enough twists and turns to fuel us up when we needed it the most, but never overdid it either. It wasn’t the large bed, nor was it the small one – it was the one, slap-dab in the middle that was just right.

How could say "no" to that face? Hot damn!

How could say “no” to that face? Hot damn!

Focus is not one of these movies, and yet, I have a hard time complaining about it much.

For one, it’s a very exciting movie. It’s quick, light-on-its-feet and hardly ever slows down, even when the characters do get to talking about their emotions and so on and so forth. Even then, though, these moments are still neat to watch and pay attention to, because you never quite know whether one is actually being themselves because they want to actually be genuine for once, or if they’re just putting up an act so that they can get what it is that they want. This actually happens during a couple of instances in this film, and it helps speed things along smoothly enough to where we’re not nit-picking every single mistake, or contrivance this movie makes up. Because, trust me, there are plenty to be had here.

There’s one sequence that takes place during the Super Bowl that’s not only the most memorable of the whole movie, but features some of the more tense sequences I’ve seen in something that doesn’t include much gun-play, car-chases, or violence, for that matter. What happens is that we see Smith’s character, Nicky, constantly throw down bets just to have a ball at the game, because he’s with Robbie’s character and, like most women (apparently), she doesn’t give a lick about the sport of football. The bets start off nice, sweet, and playful, like any good two pals would do, but then, once another party walks in on the betting-pool and realizes that they can have some fun while spending plenty of dimes, then the bets get more extreme, the money gets larger, and eventually, we’re left having no clue where the hell this is going to go, why, and who is going to be on the receiving-end of this bet.

I won’t say much more about it, except that it’s the most excitement I’ve had during a movie in quite some time and that’s because it’s unpredictable. Most movies of this nature definitely strive for that, but instead, seem so tailor-made to make sure that everybody has a big, happy smile leaving, so therefore, they’re going to get the pleasing solution to whatever problem may come into the protagonist’s way. Here, it’s never fully clear whether we’re going to get the happy ending, or the sad, dark, and depressing one.

And because of that, Focus hardly loses an ounce of steam. Even if, you know, there’s plenty that goes on here in it that seems to be wildly unbelievable and over-the-top, that it ever happening, or being as intricately planned-out as it is made out to be, hardly ever rings true. But that just shows you what can happen when you make your movie as fun and as exciting as this: You can have some of the biggest, widest, most gaping plot-holes ever seen on the face of the planet, and if you allow us, the audience, to laugh, enjoy ourselves, and come close to even crying, then don’t worry, all is well.

For the most part, that is.

Stop looking so fresh, Will Smith.

Stop looking so fresh, Will Smith…….

But where the movie really racks up the points in winning us over is with the pitch perfect casting of both Will Smith and soon-to-be-star Margot Robbie, in the leading roles. Though the age-gap between the two is nearly 22 years, that didn’t bother me as much here, as it does with some of Woody Allen’s movies, because the two have surefire chemistry that barely hits a false note. Sure, you could make the argument that even when the age-difference between the two spouses in Woody Allen’s movie hit almost 30, they can still seem believable and understandable because of good chemistry between the two, but here, it didn’t seem as creepy. Or, at least, the movie didn’t have it written-out to be that way.

For instance, once we see these two together, automatically, you can tell that there’s some sort of spark between the two. It could be all made-up for the con; it could be genuine attraction; or, it could be love. Whatever it is, Robbie and Smith seemed like they really enjoyed working with one another both in front of, as well as behind the camera, because every opportunity they have to make some bit of this feel heartfelt, they go for it. Even if you know Smith’s character is just messing around with Robbie’s to get her to do what he wants for a con, or whatever, there’s still a small feeling that he actually wants to be with her. As unlikely as that may be.

Which is to say, yes, Will Smith does wonders with a role that, quite frankly, could have been so corny and forgettable, had it been played by most other movie stars. But Smith, giving it all he’s got, fits into this role so perfectly that you believe him both as the calm, cool and confident smooth-talker that’s able to get through any con with the use of his fast-working brain, as well as a guy who sincerely wants to settle down in life and possibly even get out of the conning business, just for that reason alone. There’s a heart to this character that makes him worth watching, and it’s where Smith’s performance really takes hold.

But the one who really walks away with this one, is the fiery, the hot, and the engaging woman who is Margot Robbie. Most may know Robbie from the Wolf of Wall Street and while that’s a solid highlight of what she can do, here, as Jess Barrett, she is constantly taking this movie over. Not only does she use her unbelievably lovely good-looks to her advantage to get what she wants, but she too, just like Smith’s character, feels like an actual person that wants everything there is to offer in life. Sure, she wants to con people and make some money in the process of living that life of hers, but at the end of the day, she still wants to have a husband, a family, and even possibly, a life that she can feel safe and comfortable with living.

See, con men – they’re like you or I. Just with a lot more cash lying around.

Consensus: The twists and turns can sometimes border on ridiculous, but Focus always keeps its cool by depending on the engagingly fun and frothy chemistry between Smith and Robbie, while also giving them a fun movie to work all their sly moves in.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Another successful night at the bars for Will Smith. Of which I bet he has plenty.

Another successful night at the bars for Will Smith. Of which I bet he has plenty.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Black or White (2015)

Better title – Drunk or Drug-Addict.

After the recent, tragic death of his wife, Elliot Anderson (Kevin Costner) is left grieving, with nothing more than a bunch of booze and a grand-daughter named Eloise (Jillian Estell) that he has to take care of all on his own. That wouldn’t be such a rough task, if Elliot could just put down the bottle for a second, but wouldn’t you know it? Elliot not only has a problem that he can’t fix himself, but is incapable of allowing anybody else to fix it for him. But still, he treats Eloise with kindness, love and respect – like all pop-pops should. There should be no problem with that, except for the fact that Eloise’s other grand-mother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer), wants her to spend more time at her place; something Elliot is not quite a fan of due to the “economic environment” that they surround themselves with. Not to mention that Elliot isn’t on good terms with Eloise’s father, aka, Rowena’s son (Andre Holland). Rowena wants to be around her grand-daughter more and decides that it’s time to take the situation to court, where her lawyer brother (Anthony Mackie) will try and push the case more towards Elliot’s racist-tactics, even if they aren’t there to begin with.

She's happy with him.

She’s happy with him.

It would seem a little risky for someone like writer/director Mike Binder (meaning, someone who is white), to tackle a film that deals with racial injustices and the certain stereotypes each race sets out for the other. That’s not to say Binder himself shouldn’t make a movie that deals with these issues, but considering the type of tension going around our society currently, to say anything bad about any race whatsoever, let alone African Americans, it would almost seem like a death-warrant. Sometimes, these movies need to be made, and other times, they don’t.

In this case, Black or White did not need to be made. Which isn’t to say because it criticizes certain aspects to black people’s culture (because it definitely criticizes white people as well), but it’s because it so clearly is trying not to offend anyone, of any particular race, gender, or belief, that it tip-toes its way back to the starting line and feels like it’s playing it all way too safe. Now, I didn’t need a totally scathing-outlook on white, or black cultures; however, what I did need was a compelling story that was willing to take charge with the points it wanted to make and actually saw them through. More or less, Binder presents them, alludes to them on certain occasions, but hardly ever takes that extra mile to actually address them in a way that would bring forth some discussion or any bit of controversy to what he’s saying.

There’s an elephant in the room throughout all of Black or White (which is racial-relations and who is right, and who is wrong), and Binder seems to constantly avoid going further and further in-depth about it.

But that’s not to say all of Black or White is poorly-done, because it seems like whenever Binder focuses on the actual story itself, he has a clear head of what he wants to say and how. Normally, this means that Binder’s trying to say Kevin Costner’s character, Elliot, while not perfect or fully-equipped to be the father that this little girl need or deserves, he’s still trying and that’s all that matters. And because of that certain element to his character, Costner is allowed to dig deep into what makes this character tick, and just get by in this world. It’s a shame that the movie constantly wants to have Costner’s character drinking some sort of alcoholic beverage in nearly every scene, because when he doesn’t seem to be too tuned-up on the hair of the dog that bit him, Elliot seems like a genuinely sweet, kind man.

However, too often than not, Binder uses Elliot as the butt of his own joke; the same joke where everybody says he looks, acts, and talks like a drunk, which is true, because he is. It’s hardly ever funny, and not because alcoholism is something not to be joked around about, but because the way it’s done here feels so obvious and tacked-on. In fact, there’s many moments where Binder’s film never makes a clear decision of whether it wants to be a comedy, or a drama. Certain lines a character says, while may speak some heartfelt truth, sort of comes off as a joke that Binder is using to lighten-up the mood when everything else here seems to be getting too hot, heavy and dramatic for the crowd watching in their seats.

Most of these moments come from Octavia Spencer’s Rowena, who I not only found incredibly grating to listen to, but came off as something of a caricature after awhile of what Binder imagines most black men and women’s momma’s to be. Rowena is constantly hootin’, hollerin’, and forgetting to hold her tongue when she knows she should and is always sticking up for her boy, even though she knows he’s not the right fit to be a father in the first place. The film actually references this and shows that Rowena does not in fact want to take Eloise away from Elliot in the first place, but much rather perform a dual-custody type of situation, however, she still treats him like she can’t trust him at all with her baby-girl and wants nothing more than to win this case, and kick the dirt right up in his face. It’s actually quite strange how she acts towards him, both before, during, and after the case, and it’s a shame that Spencer is thrown through such a haywire-of-a-role.

She's happy with her.

She’s happy with her.

She clearly deserves better. As does everybody else in here.

But what it all comes down to with this movie, meaning, the only reason to see this movie for any reason whatsoever, is Costner’s performance. He reveals certain shades, dimensions and aspects to this character that maybe weren’t at all even alluded to in the original-script, but Costner is somehow able to bring to the table. If you want a better example of this, check out one of his final scenes in the courtroom by the end, where he makes it clear that every action he made, for himself and for Eloise, was specifically out of love and adoration, and not out of spite. The movie wants us to see this character as something of a troubled human-being that deserves to at least give up his reigns as Eloise’s sole-provider, but for me, what I saw was, yes, a troubled-man, but one who clearly had the best intentions with everything he did, and everything that he planned on doing. He’s like many men I know in my life, most importantly, my own father.

Such a shame he didn’t get a better movie. Sorry, dad. I mean, Kev. Yeah, Kevin Costner’s not my dad.

Just disregard all that.

Consensus: Writer/director Mike Binder is dealing with some interesting issues in Black or White, but never seems to express them in a thought-provoking way that doesn’t feel preachy, or over-the-top, even if it does get by a tad bit on a great performance from Kevin Costner.

4.5 / 10 = Rental!!

So why can't we all just get along, folks?!?!

So why can’t we all just get along, folks?!?!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Best of Me (2014)

Funny how true love always seems to come around while on the verge of dying.

After an explosion on a rig that nearly kills him, Dawson Cole (James Marsden) catches wind of news that his mentor of sorts (Gerald McRaney) has tragically passed away. With this, Dawson decides it’s time to head back home and see what needs to be taken care in the estate. While he’s doing this, an old-love of his, Amanda (Michelle Monaghan), is doing the same. Which would be great if they wanted to catch up and be cool with one another, however, considering where they last left things, that can’t seem to happen. But because the recently-deceased wishes was for them to see if they can be friends again, they decide to give it a try and with this, we get to see, through flashbacks, how they got so acquainted with one another in the first place and where exactly they went wrong in the process. Which begs the question: Are they too damaged to get back together one last time for all? Or, are they just beginning on another romance of theirs that they can make into something serious? Oh, the melodrama!

Here we go again, people – another year, another Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. And as most of you may know, I for one do not take kindly to these movies; they’re poorly-done and yet, still make so much money because young teenage girls can’t seem to get the fact that hardly any of these movies are good. Sure, the Notebook was serviceable at best, but other than that rarest-of-rare example, there’s not much else to write home about.

In fact, the only times that these movies are at least watchable, at that, is when they’re absolutely crazy and over-the-top that it doesn’t matter how manipulative and corny the final-product turns out to be. As long as you’re having fun with it, that’s all that matters. Safe Haven showed small signs of this, as well as the Lucky One, but regardless, those movies are still terrible. Like I said before, there’s some fun to be had in how ridiculous they can get, but for the most part, they’re just a bunch of overly-sappy, rather boring romantic-melodramas that not even some housewives can get through.

Is there really any need for the shirt to be off?

Is there really any need for the shirt to be off?

And trust me, I live with one and she hates these pieces of garbage!

Which is what brings me to the Best of Me, yet again, another Nicholas Sparks adaptation, but with a slight twist: the two lovers here are actually a bit older than we’re used to seeing with these adaptations. Usually, Sparks’ adaptations like to appeal to a young-ish crowd, so therefore, they include two hot, young, in-the-moment stars to ring in the dough, but here, the story is a bit different in that the two stars this movie is being advertised with having, are older and definitely not huge stars to begin with. No offense to either James Marsden or Michelle Monaghan (who actually receives top-billing, thankfully), but they’re not the sorts of movie stars that I could see ranking #1 at the box-office, with or without the Nicholas Sparks name attached.

All that said, it’s sad to see them in something like this because, unsurprisingly, they do both try and do succeed in making this material seem genuine. They have a nice chemistry together that is challenging and believable, which is probably a testament to how talented these two pros are. But, as one could imagine happening, even they eventually succumb to the beast of this movie’s script and just how terrible it is.

But most of what makes this movie so bad isn’t the script and how horrendous it is (although it’s definitely a key-factor), it’s the non-stop flashbacks that this movie uses to enhance the emotions of this story, and just constantly annoyed me everytime it showed up. Some of that has to do with how hackneyed the dialogue is between all of these teens, but most of it has to do with the fact that they cast someone who looks like Luke Bracey, in a role that’s supposed to be a younger-version of a James Marsden character. Seriously, look at the two and tell me if you can see one bit of a similarity in how they look.

Not one?

Well, don’t worry, because you’re totally not alone. See, rather than actually searching the landscape and finding a person that looks somewhat like a young-ish James Marsden, the creators here make it seem like they had enough money and time to get a young-stud like Luke Bracey and just decided to cast him in the role, regardless of if he shared any similarities in terms of look or personality with Marsden. This isn’t just a glaring problem with the movie, but it’s constantly distracting because you never for one second believe that one would eventually grow up to be the other. It’s like they’re two different characters, who just so happen to share the same name.

Nicholas Sparks' view of what a grizzled, ex-convict looks like.

Nicholas Sparks’ view of what a grizzled, ex-convict looks like.

Which is to say that had Bracey not been playing the same character as Marsden’s, the performance probably would have been viewed better, but sadly, that is not the case. Even though he tries to make us believe in him as this Dawson character, he can’t help but seem like just another one of those bumble, redneck-like characters. But you know, this time, has a heart of gold. Haven’t seen that before, I’ll tell ya!

Thankfully though, Monaghan and the one playing a younger-version of her character, Liana Liberato, are better-off; not because they actually look the least bit alike, but because the personalities of the two characters match and make you believe that one could actually grow up to be the other. That said, Liberato is probably the most memorable part of this movie because she makes a young gal like Amanda, not just seem like she could fall in love with somebody as troubled as Dawson, but because she actually seems like a young kid. She’s reckless, spirited, and lets her emotions get the best of her – a true-to-form, high school girl.

But it’s just a shame that it all had to get wasted in something that doesn’t once feel “honest”, or even “believable”.

Consensus: Like most of Sparks’ other adaptations, the Best of Me is sap-tastic in every which way, meaning that those who usually love this kind of stuff, will continue to do so, whereas everybody else, just cringes and laughs away.

2.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"James, take my hand. AND WE OFF TO NEVA NEVA LAND!! BOOM!!"

“James, take my hand. AND WE OFF TO NEVA NEVA LAND!! BOOM!!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014)

Apes on horses. That’s all I’ve got to say.

Set ten years after where the first one ended, in the wake of the ALZ-113 virus, practically all civilization on Earth has been wiped out. Now all that seems to be left is nature itself; most importantly, the apes themselves who live out in the wilderness where they belong, led by the one and only ape who should be leading them, Caesar (Andy Serkis). The apes have been living pretty comfortably there for quite some time, so when they discover that humans are still alive and living in the city, they get a little worried. However, Caesar does not want to start a war, so he keeps the peace so long as the humans stay on their side of the bridge, and they will do the same. However, the humans need some help that makes it difficult to stay out the apes’ way: There’s apparently a generator that can bring back all of the electricity to the city, that also happens to be located right underneath the major dam. Which, in case you couldn’t tell by now, is located directly in the woods. Caesar is not happy with this, but he’s able to connect with a human (Jason Clarke) that shows the two species can trust each other. That is, until one ape, Koba (Toby Kebbell), sees Caesar’s willingness to allow the humans on their turf as some sort of weakness and decides that it’s his time to shine and take things into his own hands.

Meaning one thing and one thing only…..WAR!!

So yeah, Rise was a pretty solid re-boot that showed not only was there some life left in this near-extinct franchise, but that there was plenty more opportunity to build from there. Because, if you think about it, you could make any story seem fresh or inventive, just so long as you have the apes involved. Take out the apes, and you have a pretty standard movie that we’ve seen a hundred times before. But with the apes, though, well there’s something special about that and I think that’s exactly why this movie works just as much, if not more than the first.

"What? Is it something on my face?"

“What? Is it something on my face?”

And I think the main element to what makes that such is the fact that Matt Reeves is director here and the guy’s got some chops. Say what you will about Cloverfield, but he’s probably the only guy who can easily say he’s made one of the best American horror-remake of the past decade, come from writing a such a sappy, melodramatic show like Felicity, and yet still be able to deliver on a big-budget, action spectacle such as this. But what makes Reeves’ direction so much more impressive is the fact that he has to do a whole lot here, without losing focus – he has to keep the action, the violence and the overall carnage up to keep people satisfied, while still be able to give us those spare emotional moments that have us feel something for these characters when all goes wrong. Because, as we all know, it certainly will.

And while it’s evident that Reeves sort of slips up on giving this movie more of a point than just, “Don’t be mean to others, guys!”, there’s still a whole lot more emotional baggage that I felt delivered in ways I wasn’t expecting. Sure, we’ve seen the story of Caesar before, but what about him now as a leader? An ape that has a lot more on his plate than before. Because not only is he the head ape of this whole clan, he’s possibly the head ape of his whole species and it’s all up to him to keep the peace amongst the group, make the right choices, and ensure that not all of it goes to waste because of a mess-up here, or a mess-up there.

In a way, too, Andy Serkis is a lot like Caesar; not only does Caesar himself play a way bigger role this time around, but Serkis’ name even gets top-billing as well. To me, Serkis will always be remembered for what he does in these motion-capture performances and rightfully so: He’s able to give a voice to these characters who seemingly have none. Though Caesar does do an awful lot of a Hulk-talk throughout this movie (“Human bad. Ape good.”), there are still many moments in which we just see Caesar either speaking to others in sign-language, or just by looking at someone, for some reason. However, the reason is never a mystery to us because with every stare, every glance that Caesar the character gives a fellow character, Serkis brings so much drama; so much so that we never exactly know whether Caesar is going to lose his shit, or just take a much-needed nap.

That said, it should definitely be noted that Serkis isn’t the only one donning the green spandex-suit and getting away with it, because there are quite a few other relatively big names that do splendid work as well. Though Koba is essentially a one-note bastard, Toby Kebbell does a great job at giving him enough reason behind the menace to make you understand why an ape like him would take absolute matters into his own hands, as risky as they may sometimes be. Judy Greer is also using mo-cap here as Caesar’s wife/baby-momma and is fine, although it is unfortunate that we don’t actually get to see her in this movie, because what a pleasure that would have been.

Oh well, I guess these annoying-ass Sprint Family Plan commercials will have to do for now. Ugh.

Anyway, mostly everything I said about the ape characters, can be said for the human characters, although they’re filled with more recognizable faces and names. Jason Clarke is practically filling in for Franco as a peacekeeper named Malcolm. We never really get to know much about his character other than that he lost some of those close to him when the virus swept the nation, as well as that he’s able to at least communicate and stay calm with the apes, but with Clarke, that’s enough as is. The dude’s a solid actor and always makes it seem like he’s a genuinely nice guy, who just wants what’s best for his people, so long so as nobody has to get hurt. And as for Franco, well, much has been made about him apparently showing up in this movie, and I have to say, without saying all that much, he does. And unsurprisingly, it’s the most emotionally-wrenching scene of the whole movie.

Damn that Franco. The dude isn’t even credited as being in the movie, yet, somehow leaves the biggest impression.

Typical Franco-fashion.

As for the rest of the human characters, they’re fine, though not as deep as Clarke’s Malcolm in the middle – Keri Russell plays his gal-pal who also happens to be a doctor at the most opportune times; Kodi Smit-McPhee plays the teenage son who draws pictures and reads Charles Burns’ Black Hole (highly recommended read from yours truly), which already gives you the impression that this kid has seen some messed-up stuff and is trying to express himself in any creative way to block it all out, or just that he’s a messed-up kid in general; Kirk Acevedo plays, yet again, a spineless dick that has some truth to what he says, but is so aggressive about it, you sort of just want to give him a Benadryl; and Gary Oldman does what he can with his limited-role as the leader of these humans by digging deep into what makes this human, well, human.

"Come on, bro. You're an ape, I'm an ape, let's just be ape for one another."

“Come on, bro. You’re an ape, I’m an ape, let’s just be ape for one another.”

Typical Oldman-fashion. So suck on that, Franco!

However, I’ve realized that I’ve gotten further and further away from the point of this movie, and that’s that it’s a pretty solid summer blockbuster if I’ve ever seen one. Reeves doesn’t back down when he has to allow his movie to get a tad bit insane (apes on horses, that’s all I’m saying), but he finds a neat balance in allowing there to be these small, quiet humane scenes of drama that feel honest, rather than thrown-in to give this story some more of a purpose. Many blockbusters nowadays are guilty of this, but somehow, Reeves is smarter than that; he knows his story is about apes and humans trying to get along, but somehow just can’t. Yet, he isn’t afraid to go a step further and show us that the fear isn’t with these apes coming over to our land and taking over, but how most of us humans would react. Some would run and hide, while others would probably stay and fight for what they believe in.

Whatever your choice is, it doesn’t matter. Because these apes, they’re kicking ass, taking names and, occasionally, being nice to those humans who realize there’s more to them than just a bunch of hairy specimens. They have souls, feelings and all sorts of emotions. That’s not to say that they’re like you or me, but hey, they come pretty close.

Got your back, Darwin.

Consensus: While it’s not nearly as deep as it clearly wants to be, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes still messes around with plenty ideas, while simultaneously giving us enough action, spectacle, fun, and emotion to make this story, as well as these characters, human or not, feel worth getting invested in.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Caesar here!"

“Caesar here!”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images